by Linda Webster, PhD
St. Ann Church in Ebarb, Louisiana.
During the 25th anniversary year of the Diocese of Shreveport we are profiling small churches around the diocese.
St. Ann houses a robust place of worship in Ebarb, a small area of homes at the western edge of Sabine parish.
“We’re a real Catholic community,” said Maudie Woodruff who grew up in the area. “I like to think of our church as ‘old time religion’ practiced the way our parents and grandparents [did when they] came to this church.”
Dedicated in 1935 by Bishop Desmond, the church looks much the same today as it has for the last 75 years. According to Ione Durr, a granddaughter of Homer Ezernack who was one of the four carpenters, a mule-drawn wagon load of materials arrived each week on Monday from Zwolle with the head carpenter who boarded with the Albert Ebarb family. Friday, he would drive the mules back to Zwolle. The church looks very much the same today with the exception of a stunning altar piece brought to Ebarb from Iowa by Fr. Tim Hurd. A front porch has been added, a wing for housing a resident priest was completed in the early 1950s and the St. Ann cemetery was created just down the road on the way to Zwolle.
“I started singing in the choir when I was in fifth grade,” said Woodruff. “The church would be packed with large families and lots of children. But when Toledo Bend came in, so many people had to move and now there is just the one road into the community from Zwolle.”
Recognized by the State of Louisiana in 1978 as a Choctaw-Apache Tribal Area, many of the residents are descendants of Apache slaves, Choctaw families on the Sabine River or natives of the Spanish mission of Los Adaes.
“We older ones refer to the pews on the right side as the women’s side and the pews on the left as the men’s side,” noted Durr. “This is a common practice in Native American cultures and about 99% of our members are of the local tribe.”
Originally, a small chapel built in 1920 with $165 of Catholic Extension Society funding served the community. Mass was said by Fr. Bokhoven when he could get to Ebarb from St. Joseph much like Fr. Tim Hurd serves the parish today. Beginning as a mission of St. Joseph Church in Zwolle, seven miles away, St. Ann was returned to mission status in 2005 after 50 years as an independent parish.
Early parishioners await Mass inside St. Ann Church.
“Growing up, we had religious education here at St. Ann although I think Confirmation may have been at St. Joseph,” added Woodruff.
A delightful photograph gracing the front cover of the Images of America publication titled Around Ebarb and the Toledo Bend by Mary Lucille Rivers and Travis Ebarb, Jr. confirms Woodruff’s memory. Fr. William Pierce, the resident pastor at St. Ann from 1953-1968, is shown motoring up a waterway in a small boat filled with eight school-aged children as he ferries them to the parish for religion classes. A couple of the smaller boys are holding onto the gunnels fiercely but most are smiling. The children in the photograph have last names that are still very common in the community: Procell and Manshack. A more contemporary photograph on page 14 of that same publication shows a group of 11 youngsters, all decked out in canvas-covered life jackets, waiting by an all-terrain vehicle. The caption reads: “Waiting on Fr. Pierce and getting ready to ‘cross the creek’ to go back home after catechism …”
According to Monica Ebarb, some parishioners would walk miles to attend Sunday Mass.
“I remember one lady who drove her truck to church always carrying about 8-10 people in the front and back of her truck. Any time Mass was being held, she was there with her passengers no matter the weather.”
Monica also remembers the men sitting on the left and all of the women and children sitting to the right, many praying the rosary silently during Mass. She also remembers when air conditioning and a P.A. system were installed.
“Before that, the priest just spoke loudly!”
St. Ann Cemetery is on the left as one drives into the center of the community.
“We used to have a men’s club called the ‘King’s Kitchen’ while Fr. Williams was here,” remembered Woodruff. “They’d have a little bar-b-que maybe once a year, and take care of the cemetery and the church.”
Fr. Luis Antlitz is buried in the cemetery under the main cross. He served as pastor from 1968 through 1976, then retired. He lived with two local families until his death – Raymond and Joan Ebarb and Chester and Oma Procell.
Today, the community gathers at St. Ann Church for Mass on Saturday evenings at 6:30 p.m. Anita Manshack unlocks the main door around 6:00 p.m. and prepares to lead the rosary for the large turn-out of two dozen parishioners. Among the early arrivals is Nicolette Ebarb and her cousin, Crista Chance, who go out onto the front porch to begin greeting parishioners.
“We volunteered to be greeters,” said Ebarb. “We like being out here and saying ‘Hello’ to everyone. And then we ring the bell. There are big crowds here at Christmas and Easter plus there are newcomers, the visitors who are fishing or camping on the lake.”
Woodruff’s own great-granddaughter was present in the church when Bishop Duca visited as part of his initial tour of all parishes in the diocese.
“We had her in the choir area at the front of the church and she started fussing,” she chuckled. “My granddaughter got up to take the child out of church but Bishop Duca told her to stay – that a fussing baby was the sound of new life in the church!”
Woodruff lives just a quarter mile away from St. Ann on the one road that leads in to and out of town. She and her family provide the music for liturgies, practicing at the church for special events like Christmas and Easter, but most of the time singing the hymns they’ve sung together for years. Mia Curtis plays the keyboard and other choir members include Monica Ebarb and her daughter, Amber Cartinez, plus other members of the extended family.
“We love our little church,” Woodruff said.